Category Archives: Water

The great water privatisation disaster: Tory scheme means England could run out of drinking water

There’s a line in one of the Horatio Hornblower books in which the Admiral of the Fleet tells the young hero it’s every officer’s duty to leave the navy in better condition than when he found it.

That’s a good philosophy for any organisation.

What a shame the Conservatives don’t have the same philosophy – about anything at all.

In particular, we see their actual philosophy – “sell it off and ruin it” – in action in the UK’s water industry, which was privatised by the Thatcher government in 1989.

A new report by Parliament’s public accounts committee states that privatisation has been such an catastrophe that there is a serious risk that parts of England will run out of water altogether within the next 20 years.

The report says that “ponderous” water companies – 70 per cent of which are now owned by foreign businesses – have made “no progress” in reducing leakage meaning that more than three billion litres of water leaks out of the system every single day.

That’s one-fifth of the UK’s daily supply!

The committee says the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has failed to provide enough leadership in telling the private companies how to balance investment in infrastructure and reducing customer bills, but This Writer thinks that is nonsense.

The private companies are neither investing in infrastructure nor cutting costs – they are literally draining us dry.

We pay too much for the water we get and the lack of investment in the UK system by its foreign owners means soon we won’t even get it!

This is a problem entirely created by the Conservatives with their ridiculous lie that private firms are more efficient, more economical, and cost the consumer less. They aren’t, they aren’t and they don’t.

And by letting these firms fall into the hands of foreign business people, it seems our money is being invested into the systems in their own countries, rather than in ours. It’s certainly boosting the treasuries of the countries where these firms are based in tax – rather than our own.

This is an English problem.

Scotland receives its supply from the publicly-owned company Scottish Water, which is the most trusted public utility in the UK. It constantly invests in its system, keeps customers happy – and paying less, and is even reducing its carbon footprint.

In Wales, three million people get their supply from the not-for-profit firm Glas Cymru/Welsh Water which, according to surveys, has sector-leading levels of customer satisfaction.

Customers in Northern Ireland do not pay water charges to their publicly-owned water supplier, Northern Ireland Water.

England is less lucky.

Anglian Water is owned by a consortium consisting of Canada Pension Plan Investment BoardColonial First State Global Asset ManagementIFM Investors and 3i.

Northumbrian Water is owned by Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.

Southern Water is owned by a consortium called Greensands Holdings Limited, comprising  JP Morgan Asset Management (40%), UBS Asset Management (22%), Hermes Infrastructure Funds (21%) and Whitehelm Capital (8%).

Wessex Water is owned by a Malaysian firm, YTL Corporation.

Affinity Water is part-owned by US firm Morgan Stanley.

Bristol Water is part-owned by Japanese Itochu corporation.

South East Water is part-owned by Utilities Trust of Australia.

And Sutton and East Surrey Water is owned by the Japanese Sumitomo Corporation.

Other water firms are still UK-based – and some are only part foreign-owned.

Across the board, bills have increased by 40 per cent on average. Considering the efforts made by the publicly-owned/not-for-profit firms, it’s likely that some English customers have suffered much higher hikes.

Shareholders have received at least £56 billion since privatisation in 1989.

Six water companies have been found to be avoiding millions in tax.

Water makes big money.

But you can see that most of it has been going abroad.

It certainly hasn’t been used to plug any leaks!

The message is clear: public ownership is cheaper, more efficient, and guarantees that customers’ taps won’t run dry.

It seems the private shareholders are swimming in cash while ensuring that, in a very short time, you die of thirst.

Source: England faces “serious risk of running out of water within 20 years” – Committees – UK Parliament

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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Your at-a-glance guide to John McDonnell’s barnstorming conference speech

John McDonnell, delivering his speech to the Labour conference.

The least that can be said about it is that it will give the Tories plenty to deride at their own conference.

The reason the above is the least that can be said is, Tories ALWAYS try to ridicule Labour policies. Then they proudly announce a load of nonsense rubbish, get their friends in the right-wing media to push it as the only realistic option, dupe enough of the nation into supporting them at a general election and we end up – well, we end up in the mess we’re in today.

As a result of this Tory stupidity, the UK is not so much a proud island nation voyaging to new horizons as a leaky, sinking boat, weighed down by fatted passengers, who expect a malnourished crew to bail them out – using punctured buckets.

Those Tory speeches haven’t happened yet, so let’s enjoy Mr McDonnell’s words while we can. He was certainly correct that it has been Labour’s historic role to lead the UK into each new era, and if he gets the chance to execute the plan he has outlined, Labour will fulfil that duty again.

In This Writer’s opinion, he identified all the right issues. Whether he came up with the right answers is up for debate, but his choices certainly seemed popular with the party rank-and-file.

If you didn’t catch the speech and want to know what his proposals were, here they are:

  • Creation of a Strategic Investment Board, to put money into key research projects, employment and wages, with fair distribution of investment across the UK.
  • Supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses, the genuinely self-employed and massively expanding worker control and the co-operative sector.
  • Re-nationalising rail, water, energy, and the Royal Mail.
  • Crossrail to be built in the north; HS2 extended into Scotland. Midlands Connect to overhaul transport there. Electrified railway lines from Cornwall to London.
  • Investment in the zero-carbon economy, for example the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.
  • Full protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in other EU countries, and a promise to give Tories “the political battle of their lives” if they try to water down or undermine protections on employment, consumer or environmental rights.
  • Close the tax loopholes and avoidance scams used by the mega-rich, making sure the rich and the giant corporations pay their way, to pay for public services.
  • Scrap the public sector pay cap; introduce the real Living Wage at £10 per hour; introduce pay ratios at the top; and address the gender pay gap.
  • Restore basic employment rights, repeal the Tories Trade Union Act, set up a new Ministry of Labour and restore collective bargaining.
  • Cap credit card debt.
  • Scrap tuition fees.
  • End Private Finance Initiative deals and bring those that currently exist “back in-house”.

He wrapped up by saying, “The Tories have tried to change people’s view of what is normal and acceptable in our society. They want us to accept that in the fifth richest country in the world it’s normal and acceptable for people to be saddled with debt; for people to have to work long, often insecure, hours, stressed out, struggling to find time with their family; for people not to have a pay rise for years no matter how dedicated you are or how hard you work; for young people to have no prospect of owning their own home; for disabled people to be pushed to the edge by the benefits system; or for carers to be struggling without support or recognition.

“Let’s make it clear – we will never accept that this is normal or acceptable.”

So which do you prefer? The Tory version of “normal or acceptable”? Or the Labour alternative?

I know which I’d rather have – but is it really possible?


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Despite two democratic defeats, the Tories are STILL privatising our forests

Now imagine it filled with holiday cabins and a sewage treatment plant.

Now imagine it filled with holiday cabins and a sewage treatment plant.

Do you remember when the Conservative-led Coalition government relented on its plan to sell off our public forests into private ownership? It was only last November.

Here’s how Vox Political reported it. The article said the then-Infrastructure Bill would give Government agencies carte blanche to hand over any public land – including countryside and forests – to private developers.

But the article said campaigning organisation 38 Degrees had fought off this underhanded plan by the government: “They U-turned and made changes which will mean our forests are protected – in law.”

This was the second attempt by the government to sell off our forests. The first was abandoned in 2011.

Now it seems the Tories want to make it third time lucky.

The Guardian is reporting that there are plans to build luxury holiday cabins, majority-owned by venture capitalists, in public forests, putting protected wildlife and their habitats at risk.

Mark Avery writes: “One of my local woods, Fineshade wood in east Northamptonshire, is owned by me, and you, and every other taxpayer, as it is owned by the Forestry Commission (FC), a non-ministerial government department.

“Despite its wildlife, landscape and wider social value, the FC believes that Fineshade wood is the right place to plonk down 70 luxury holiday cabins, extra roads, and a sewage treatment plant. These would be built and managed by Forest Holidays, a company largely owned by venture capitalists, Lloyds Development Capital, in which the FC (ie you and me) has a small and diminishing holding. The development will be considered by East Northants Council on Wednesday evening.”

Didn’t we all decide, democratically, that this privatisation of our public forests should not happen?

But here it is.

And only days after we heard the Coalition in the House of Lords had voted to overturn regulations that would keep our drinking water safe from the effects of fracking. Greedy little piggies.

Is it time for another 38 Degrees petition? Or have the architects of this betrayal ensured that it is already too late?

Whatever happens, this is further proof that the Tories and the Liberal Democrats don’t believe in democracy.

They knew that the public wanted these forests to be safeguarded forever, but they are allowing them to be sold into private hands anyway.

Why, then, do they want us to – democratically – elect them back into Parliament?

Since they do not believe in democracy, they should not be part of it.

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Who are the Tories trying to fool about TTIP?

150115TTIP1a

Who to believe – this infographic, by the private pharmaceutical company Lilly…

150115TTIP2a

… or this, which has no corporate sponsor and was created by people who are concerned about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal?

Wasn’t it nice to see business minister Matthew Hancock so adamant that the NHS is protected from the provisions of the hugely controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership plan?

“There is no threat to the NHS from TTIP,” he promised. “Public services, and publicly funded health services, are not included in any of the EU trade commitments.”

Oh, really? And what happens when a future Labour government restores the NHS to full state control and the private companies that have been creaming cash off it scream blue murder? Can Hancock promise they won’t go to the even-more-controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement system to take revenge on that government.

Of course he can’t.

But it was interesting to hear his opinions today. That was all the backbench business debate could claim to do – get MPs to air their own views and those of their party on this sticky subject. The decision that the EU and UK Parliaments should scrutinise the provisions of both TTIP and ISDS are not binding on any government, even though they express the wish of the current Parliament.

Here are a couple more Tory opinions. First, Conservative Robert Walter tried to allay fears by pointing to a letter from business secretary Vince Cable, stating that “the new Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, has… stated explicitly that ‘public service, including health, education and water management, are not on the agenda.’”

‘Not on the agenda’ means ‘not on the agenda for discussion’, though, and not necessarily ‘not included in the deal’.

And Conservative Dr Sarah Wollaston tried to offer more substantial reassurance by saying she had received correspondence from Jean-Luc Demarty, the European Commission’s director-general for trade, who “made it absolutely clear that all publicly funded health services, including NHS services, would be protected under TTIP… as long as the services are publicly funded, it does not matter how they are delivered.”

This seems fair – but what if the Tories decide to remove state funding from NHS services that are now – or will be in the future – provided by private firms? This would firstly force people receiving that service to pay, and secondly the TTIP would remove the right of any future government to restore state provision; it would be interfering with a private company’s profits.

The motion was moved by Geraint Davies MP, who said: “If we end up with a situation where multinational companies are able to sue democratically-elected Governments over laws they have passed to protect their citizens, we will be in the wrong place altogether.

“The harsh reality is that this deal is being stitched up behind closed doors by negotiators, with the influence of big corporations and the dark arts of corporate lawyers. They are stitching up rules that would be outside contract law and common law, and outside the shining light of democracy, to give powers to multinationals to sue Governments over laws that were designed to protect their citizens.”

On health, he said: “All sorts of assurances have been given on health and social care but they are by no means watertight… As case law has not been established in Britain, the NHS remains at risk. The opening door created by the endless privatisations from the coalition Government creates more scope and risk for intervention, which could lead to possibly billions of pounds worth of legal action if a future Labour Government reversed a lot of the privatisation that has already occurred. Frankly, that would be in contrast to, and conflict with, the democratic wishes of the British people—if we get in.

“Due to the lack of case law, at any point a judge could say ‘Here is an area where there is already private competition. We will allow TTIP; why shouldn’t we?’ The more it goes forward, the more we are exposed, which is a real problem.”

Regarding ISDS, he said: “If these powers are available, they will be used to fleece the taxpayer. In my view, they are unnecessary. I accept that some protection may be needed between developed economies and democracies and rogue states, but rogue states are certainly not the United States. Mature democracies and economies, namely the EU and the US, do not need anything more than contract law to protect investors.”

Caroline Lucas (Green) pointed out in support of this that “the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, who are in trade agreements that include this kind of investor-state relationship, have been sued 127 times and have lost an amount of money that could have employed 300,000 nurses for a year“.

Mr Davies added: “The Labour party is standing on a pledge of freezing energy prices; again there could be a risk of challenge. If we wanted a one-off tax on privatised utilities, such as the one introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), on, for instance, Royal Mail, we could be at risk. If there were a move to partial or actual renationalisation of the railways or whatever, it could be subject to fines. The point is not whether one agrees with these policies; it is whether one thinks that we have the democratic right here on behalf of the people to pass those laws and not face financial intimidation.”

Labour’s David Anderson said: “People in this country are sick to death of the way public services have been treated over the past three decades. We have the nationalised train companies of other countries running our train services. We have multinational energy companies fleecing the old and poor in this country who are trying to keep their lights on and their houses warm. We have foreign postal companies undermining the universal service obligation. We have water companies—dealing with the basis of human life—that do not know where the people they provide the service to live. We have a coal industry where 200,000 people lost their jobs and communities were devastated, and we buy in coal from some of the most unstable regimes on earth. And now we worry that the health service will be fragmented before our very eyes. That is why people do not trust, and are very worried about, these negotiations.

The risk to air and water safety from fracking, and of sub-standard environmental controls, as there are in the United States, through the back door of TTIP, with ISDS, was also raised – and members on both sides of the house agreed that it was a valid issue.

Perhaps Labour’s John McDonnell described the issue best when he said: “The TTIP agreement passes over economic sovereignty on a scale that is equivalent to the establishment of the Common Market and the European Union, so I cannot understand why the Government are allowing that to happen without the full involvement of the people.

“This is about the corporate capture of policy making in this country – and in parts of Europe.”

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Fact trumps Tory fiction on the #RoadToRuin ‘Twitterstorm’

You’ll be aware that David Cameron and the Conservative Party metaphorically shot themselves through the head with their very first appeal to the voters in advance of May’s General Election.

Today (January 3) saw a mass movement on Twitter to get the facts of Conservative-led government across to the masses, using images and information to hammer home the realities.

The impact was so great that the campaign’s hashtag, #RoadToRuin, did not just trend in the UK but also in the USA, with around 30,000 messages sent between 6pm and 7pm. That’s 500 every minute.

Let’s have a look at some of them.

We’ll start with the infographics:

ruin1 ruin2 ruin3 ruin4 ruin5 ruin6 ruin7 ruin8 ruin9 ruin10 ruin11 ruin12 ruin13 ruin14 ruin15 ruin16 ruin17 ruin18 ruin19

ruin20 ruin21 ruin22 ruin23 ruin24 ruinsecondlast ruinlast

And here are some of the comments:

Meals on wheels for elderly in 63% decline under coalition, analysis finds. http://gu.com/p/44hjt/tw

Coalition’s VAT rate hike four years ago has cost families an average of £1,800 over four years.

1.5 million people on #RoadToRuin courtesy of the Work Programme.

#RoadToRuin when NHS pay private care home thousands of pounds for two week bed but won’t pay for nursing funding for 95-year-old.

Millions relying on foodbanks because Tories and FibDems put them on the #RoadToRuin.

Tory policy of taking money from public purse into privaet hands is #RoadToRuin.

They said they were “paying down our debts” but we know they haven’t. They said they have halved the deficit but they haven’t.

200,000 people waiting for first PIP assessment on the #RoadToRuin.

Tories will bring more low pay more insecure employment weaker employment rights in return for tax cuts for the rich.

90,000 children homeless, millions of people reliant on food banks; Tories call that a recovery.

2.25 million sanctioned – wiped off statistics. 3.45 million children in poverty. 900,000 use foot banks. Political poverty creation.

Rents and landlords need regulations. Rents are far too high and too many landlords are greedy and/or untrustworthy.

Independent Pay Review recommendations for nurses pay ignored on the #RoadToRuin.

220,000 less meals on wheels served to vulnerable people in 2014 than 2010 because of Conservative cuts.

Public sector workers didn’t cause greed-driven global banking crisis – that was bankers – who are still being rewarded today.

Mervyn King says no-one to blame for financial meltdown. Tory fibbers blame previous government.

After housing costs, 14.6 million (23.2 per cent UK population) in absolute poverty 2012-13, up 600,000. iaf.gd/lts

If you think things are bad now, Osborne still has 60 per cent of his planned cuts to make.

Govt doesn’t want public to challenge their policies in the Court of Human Rights so it wants to scrap Human Rights laws.

UK government to sell Eurostar stake before general election. Selling off family silver is #RoadToRuin.

Austerity is an excuse to shrink the state and sell off profitable public assets like Royal Mail leaving us on a #RoadToRuin.

Iain Duncan Smith to accelerate benefit reforms to stop Labour reversing them fw.to/EM13uib

Povery, hunger, foodbanks, privatisation of OUR NHS, zero-hours contracts, workfare, lies and broken promises!

Two companies to run more than half of privatised probation services. #RoadToRuin or complete insanity?

How many of these new jobs are low paid, don’t reach the tax threshold and have to be topped up by tax credits?

David Cameron is taking UK down a #RoadToRuin by forcing fracking and removing landowners rights.

The Tories scrapped rent controls for housing.

The Conservatives must go because they can never admit they are wrong e.g. badger cull. They will keep us on the #RoadToRuin.

Tories don’t care that we’re on the #RoadToRuin – they already have profitable consultancy positions lined up and the cuts won’t affect them.

400,000 children being taught by 17,000 unqualified teachers. Just not good enough. Failing our kids’ future.

With 400 tankers going to every fracking well every road will be in ruins.

Government is not properly regulating private companies and are allowing private companies to rip off public.

If the Conservatives win in May, our NHS will be lost forever.

If majjority of ‘jobs’ created are unpaid workfare, what happens to existing workforce competing against free labour?

Children shouldn’t go to school hungry or go home knowing they won’t eat till the next day. David Cameron, shame on you.

Tories like to keep us in a climate of fear and insecurity – makes their progress on the #RoadToRuin easier – that is, the road to OUR ruin.

Most of us plebs aren’t too savvy when it comes to economic stats but we know by instinct we’re worse off and being lied to by government.

For generations, people fought for a better world. Much of what they achieved has been undone in five years under the Conservatives.

I wasn’t born at the start of the war yet I paid the war debt down. Why the rush down the #RoadToRuin to pay a debt so quickly? We have time.

Bankers crippled the country. They got off. Decent people suffer.

They are taking away the dignity of the disabled.

Don’t become sick, disabled or old. You will be chucked out of Dave’s limo like a fag end discarded at the traffic lights.

The last word – in this article – goes to Yr Obdt Srvt, because it’s important:

Every Tory campaign statement is a step along the #RoadToRuin – let’s make sure they are ALL debunked as thoroughly as their first poster.

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Great Coalition Failures: Privatisation

zcoalitionfailprivatisation

Please share if you agree.

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Did you hear the one about Labour and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?

140115TTIP

Apparently somebody said Labour supported this hugely controversial scheme, and lots of people believed it.

In fact, the claim is doubly false. But first, a bit of background: You need to know that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a ‘free trade’ agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the United States of America. Unfortunately for most of us, the agreement as currently described would end democracy and put us at the mercy of international corporations.

This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS), which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments. You would lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.

Labour doesn’t want anything to do with an agreement that locks privatisation into the National Health Service, and TTIP – with the ISDS – would do exactly that. So Labour called for the NHS to be exempted from the conditions of the agreement, while remaining in broad support of the negotiations in the belief that the deal promised billions of pounds worth of jobs and economic growth.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are fully behind TTIP and have ruled out any opt-out for the NHS. The Tories in particular see TTIP as an opportunity to lock-in the privatisation changes they have made to the NHS.

That is the situation that most people believe exists today. They are mistaken.

Labour’s National Policy Forum met at Milton Keynes recently, where a new stance towards TTIP was agreed. Members raised the question of other public services, besides the NHS, that a future Labour government might wish to return to public ownership. With the ISDS in its current form, it would be more or less impossible to return the railways, energy firms and water companies to public ownership in the public interest.

So the current policy is as follows (with thanks to @LabourLewis of the LabourLeft blog): “Labour believes that [the] key to an EU-US trade deal that we would encourage the rest of Europe to support, which avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth, would be safeguards and progress on labour, environmental, and health and safety standards. Labour has raised concerns over the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism in TTIP. Labour believes that the right of governments to legislate for legitimate public policy objectives should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms.” [bolding mine]

This is unlikely to be Labour’s final position as many members believe the party should be even more strongly opposed to the agreement in its current form, as these concluding comments from @LabourLewis affirm: “I believe TTIP represents a free market model of the world economy that has failed the vast majority of us. The last 30 years have shown such a model of capitalism increases inequality and insecurity and leads to more frequent financial crashes.

“Simply tinkering on the margins will not be sufficient. A tad more regulation there, a bit more transparency here, a regulation over there, some restraint on executive pay over here.

“It simply won’t wash and a growing number of us, including our leader Ed Miliband, instinctively understand this.”

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Were the winter floods really that bad – or were they a distraction?

Photo opportunity: David Cameron and his posh new Wellies, talking a good fight but putting up less funds than he previously took away.

Photo opportunity: David Cameron and his posh new Wellies, talking a good fight but putting up less funds than he previously took away.

The storm of recriminations over the floods that battered the UK during the last few months appears to have been entirely disproportionate to their effect, if Vox Political‘s moles in the Environment Agency are to be believed.

Consider this: In 2007, the UK was hit by unprecedented flooding that damaged around 55,000 properties. Between December 2013 and February this year, the country was again hit by floods. Total number of properties flooded: around 5,000.

So we’ve had one-eleventh of the damage to homes, and (it seems) 11 times the fuss!

The media frenzy has given us photographs of David Cameron visiting flood-hit areas in his posh new Wellington boots, Ed Miliband being unjustifiably upbraided by a posh-voiced villager in his new Wellington boots, Eric Pickles blaming Owen Paterson, Owen Paterson blaming anyone he can, and everybody blaming the Environment Agency.

This is why Vox Political‘s EA moles are feeling ill-served; they say they have been doing the best they can under extremely difficult conditions – starved of funds, working 60-hour weeks including weekends with no extra pay (of course).

The extra cash provided by Mr “Money Is No Object” Cameron did not even equal the amount he had previously cut from the Environment Agency’s budget, meaning that the organisation was still unable to provide the service it had managed before the Conservative Party took the reigns of government in 2010.

Although funding cuts have been put on hold – for now, the Agency has no reason to believe its budget will not be hit again, as soon as the politicians find it expedient. If that is the case, what do you think will happen when the next flood hits?

This was a disaster that could have been avoided, with better planning and funding. But it wasn’t, and the government publicity machine went into overdrive while it was going on.

So our moles have been left with two questions:

Was this disaster manufactured?

If so, what was the government really doing while everyone was distracted by the constant media coverage of the storms?

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Iain Duncan Smith’s new plan to prolong child poverty

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Iain Duncan Smith wants to talk about child poverty – but how can we take him seriously when he starts the discussion with a lie?

“Recent analysis reveals that children are three times as likely to be in poverty in a workless family and there are now fewer children living in workless households than at any time since records began, having fallen by 274,000 since 2010,” according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ press release on the new consultation.

Oh really?

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), child poverty will rise from 2.5 million to 3.2 million during the 2010-2015 Parliament – around 24 per cent of all the children in the UK. By 2020, if the rise is not stopped, it will increase to four million – around 30 per centof all children in the UK.

Under the Coalition government, the number of people in working families who are living in poverty – at 6.7 million – has exceeded the number in workless and retired families who are in poverty – 6.3 million – for the first time.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has measured poverty, using several indicators, for more than 15 years; its figures are far more likely to be accurate than those of the government, which is still defining poverty as an income of less than 60 per cent of median (average) earnings. Average earnings are falling, so fewer people are defined as being in poverty – but that doesn’t make the money in their pockets go any further.

“The previous government’s target to halve child poverty by 2010 was not achieved,” states the DWP press release. Then it comes out with more nonsense: “The government is committed to ending child poverty in the UK by 2020 and the draft child poverty strategy sets out the government’s commitment to tackle poverty at its source.” From the JRF figures alone, we know that government policy is worsening the situation – or has everyone forgotten that 80,000 children woke up homeless last Christmas morning?

shame

Let’s look at the government’s plans.

The DWP claims “reforming the welfare system through Universal Credit… will lift up to 300,000 children out of poverty, and cover 70 per cent of childcare costs for every hour worked”. But we know that Universal Credit is effectively a benefit cut for everyone put onto it; they won’t get as much as they do on the current benefits, and the one per cent uprating limit means falling further into poverty every year. Also, we found out this week that the housing element will be subject to sanctions if people in part-time jobs cannot persuade their employers to give them more hours of work. The claim is ridiculous.

The DWP claims the government will will increase investment in the Pupil Premium, provide free school meals for all infant school children from September this year, improve teacher quality, fund 15 hours of free early education places per week for all three- and four-year-old children and extend 15 hours of free education and care per week to two-year-olds from low income families. None of these measures will do anything to “tackle poverty at its source”. Tackling poverty at its source means ending the causes of poverty, not putting crude metaphorical sticking-plasters over the effects – which could be removed at any time in the future.

The DWP claims the government will cut tax for 25 million people by increasing the personal tax allowance, and cut income tax for those on the minimum wage by almost two-thirds. This means people will have more money in their pocket – but will it be enough, when benefit cuts and sanctions are taken into account? Will their pay increase with the rate of inflation? There is no guarantee that it will. And this move means the government will collect less tax, limiting its ability to provide services such as poverty-reduction measures.

The DWP claims the government will reduce water and fuel costs, and attack housing costs by building more homes. The first two measures may be seen as responses to aggressive policy-making by the Labour Party, and the last will only improve matters if the new dwellings are provided as social housing. Much of the extra spending commitment is made for 2015 onwards, when the Conservative-led Coalition may not even be in office.

These are plans to prolong poverty, not end it.

It is notable that the DWP press release repeats many of the proposals in an attempt to pretend it is doing more. Take a look at the list and count for yourself the number of times it mentions fuel/energy bills (three times) and free school meals (twice).

In fact, the only measures that are likely to help reduce the causes of poverty are far down the list: Increasing access to affordable credit by expanding credit unions and cracking down on payday lending (at the very bottom – and we’ll have to see whether this really happens because payday lenders are generous donors to the Conservative party); and reviewing – mark that word, ‘reviewing’ – the national minimum wage, meaning that the government might increase the minimum wage in accordance with Low Pay Commission recommendations.

The DWP press release quotes Iain Duncan Smith, who said the consultation re-states the government’s commitment to tackle poverty at its source, “be it worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction or debt”.

The measures he has proposed will not improve anybody’s chance of finding a job, nor will they prevent family breakdown, or addiction. The plans for education have yet to be tested and may not work. The plan for debt involves annoying Conservative Party donors.

The JRF has responded to the consultation diplomatically, but there can be no mistaking the impatience behind the words of Chris Goulden, head of poverty research. He said: “Given that it has been over a year since the initial consultation on child poverty measures, we are disappointed that the government is now going to take even longer to agree what those indicators will be.

“With one in four families expected to be in poverty by 2020, a renewed strategy to address child poverty is vital. Any effective strategy should be based on evidence and contain measures to reduce the cost of living and improve family incomes. However, until those measures are agreed, it is difficult to see how the government can move forward.”

Don’t be too concerned about moving forward, Chris.

This government is backsliding.

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Osborne’s bid to end democracy by the back door

140115TTIP

The Coalition government has finally put its cards on the table, calling for the completion of a ‘free trade’ agreement with the United States of America that will end democracy as we know it today.

Do you think this statement is needlessly hyperbolic? In fact, it probably does not make the point strongly enough!

You will lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.

Profit will rule.

Also threatened would be any other public service that has been privatised by this and previous governments, along with any that are privatised in the future; all would fall under the proposed agreement. So the debate over energy bills would be lost because gas and electricity provision would come under the agreement, along with water and the Royal Mail, among others.

Speaking today (Wednesday), Osborne announced: “We should set ourselves the urgent task of completing the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – the EU-US Free Trade agreement.

“This would be the world’s biggest ever trade deal – together our economies would account for half of global output.

“The Commission estimate it would boost the European economy by 120 billion euros a year – that’s over 500 euros for every family in the EU. It would bring £10 billion pounds a year to the UK alone.

“Some in the European Parliament talk about stalling this Trans-Atlantic Partnership to pursue other agendas.

“But when a quarter of young people looking for work in Europe are unemployed, this would be a complete betrayal.

“We need to create jobs, increase trade, support business growth – we’ve got the European tools to help with the job, let’s get on and use them.”

Did you notice that, for him, it’s all about the money? Yes – he mentions job creation. But these jobs would be provided under terms dictated by the hugely powerful global corporations. Their bosses would take the profits and ground-level employees would be treated like – well, like Orwell’s metaphor for the future: a giant boot, stamping on your face, forever.

You may have heard very little about this – and for a good reason. The architects of the planned agreement want the deal done before anybody realises what is going on and organises robust protest against it.

So let’s give you some of the facts:

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The US/EU Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP), called Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US, is a bilateral trade agreement between the US and the EU. It goes much further than any previous EU trade agreement in deregulating, in establishing the rights of transnational corporations and in undermining the ability of governments to control corporations.

It is set to completely change our society, and is already in process, as with the NHS.

‘Trade’ and ‘international trade agreements’ are different. While most people would consider trade to be good thing, international trade agreements give rights to transnational corporations while reducing states’ rights to regulate them, thus reducing democracy.

All free trade agreements include goods, services and intellectual property rights – but the additional elements of the TTIP that are the main part of the agreement are much more far-reaching. These are regulatory harmonisation, investor state dispute settlement and the intention to establish global rules via these trade agreements.

‘Regulatory harmonisation’ means ‘harmonising’ regulation between the EU and US, downwards to the most lax form, across all areas, to suit transnational corporations. This will mean the degrading of regulation on health and safety, food, environment, labour standards, privacy and much more, including financial services regulation. The NHS is now already ‘harmonised’ with the US corporate-access public health model – and this was always the Conservative Party’s plan.

TTIP will also include ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), allowing transnational corporations to sue governments directly for the loss of any future profits resulting from any government action, at any level, such as new legislation. Where ISDS is already included in ‘trade’ deals, it is shown to lead either to big payouts from governments to transnational corporations or to deter governments from legislating – the ‘chill’ effect.

In theory, this means that if a national government had banned a product – a toy, perhaps – on the grounds that it was harmful to health because it contained lead – for example – the manufacturer could then sue that government for infringement of the TTIP. The national government would lose, and our children would come down with lead poisoning.

In practice, we can see a classic example in the current lawsuit taken out by Philip Morris, the antipodean tobacco giant, against the Australian government over the law that enforces plain packaging on all tobacco products there. The law was enacted to discourage people from smoking – an act with proven health risks – but it seems likely that Philip Morris will win because Australia’s government has restricted its ability to make massive profits.

TTIP and the TPP are intended to set global ‘trade’ rules which will eventually become the norms for the multilateral World Trade Organisation, but formulated outside of a structure that allows other countries to jointly resist the corporate-dominated agenda.

As with all bilateral ‘trade’ agreements, TTIP negotiations and agreement texts are secret until the negotiations are completed – ensuring that the public cannot protest against them until it is too late.

Trade agreements are effectively permanent.

Although international ‘trade’ agreements are negotiated government-to-government (by the Trade Commission for EU member states), they are promoted and driven by transnational corporations, which benefit from states being bound by international trade law – these are the the same transnational financial service corporations that caused the global financial crisis.

As part of the TTIP, a framework for the ongoing ‘harmonisation’ of all future regulation is being put in place with the setting up of a Regulatory Co-operation Council. This non-elected Council will be able to override national and EU legislation.

‘Public procurement’ – government spending – is a major target in the international trade agenda.

The TTIP is being rushed through, with the aim of completion by the end of this year (2014).

TTIP will include provision for the movement of temporary workers across borders. This will inevitably mean cheap labour, and the undermining of working conditions and labour rights, especially in a context of degraded regulation. These are the jobs George Osborne wants for you!

The Trade Commission has set up a communications ‘spin’ unit to manage public opinion on the TTIP.

Once TTIP negotiations are completed, the European Parliament will only have the right to say yes or no, to the deal, with no amendment allowed. It will then, as with all EU ‘trade’ agreements, be provisionally implemented before it comes to member state parliaments for ratification.

In the US, the government is seeking ‘Fast Track’ provision or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from the Congress. If granted, US representatives will similarly only be allowed to pass the agreement or not, without amendment.

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You may wish to examine the following documents for further evidence:

EU Commission’s (leaked) mandate from EU Council to negotiate TTIP
http://www.s2bnetwork.org/fileadmin/dateien/downloads/EU-TTIP-Mandate-from-bfmtv-June17-2013.pdf

EU Commission’s (leaked) PR strategy “Communicating on TTIP” http://corporateeurope.org/trade/2013/11/leaked-european-commission-pr-strategy-communicating-ttip

EU Commission’s (leaked) concept paper on regulatory coherence
http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/ttip-regulatory-coherence-2-12-2013.pdf

Corporate Europe Observatory’s analysis of the regulatory coherence document http://corporateeurope.org/publications/regulation-none-our-business 

George Monbiot’s articles on TTIP:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

Big business control of UK policy-making,including the UK government White Paper on Trade:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

These blog articles on TTIP:
http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/seeing-red.html

http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/seeing-red.html

http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/the-coming-corporatocracy-and-the-death-of-democracy/

This Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/waatt.org

Action against TTIP is already taking place. Petitions are available to be signed:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_the_EUUS_free_trade_agreement/?aTAVNbb

http://www.avaaz.org/en/no_champagne_for_monsanto_loc/?bJcgccb&v=32207

http://action.sumofus.org/a/tpp-lawsuits/?akid=3025.1529716.rGZEQN&rd=1&sub=fwd&t=1

But more must be done.

You – that’s right, YOU – need to contact your MP and your MEP and make sure they oppose this evil plan to stamp on your rights.

Then you – that’s right, STILL YOU – need to get involved in setting up and building local and national groups to fight it, while you still can.

DON’T expect someone else to do it for you or you’ll end up a corporate slave.

… which is exactly what George Osborne wants.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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